It is three years since I left my last corporate position, determined to launch into a less predictable and more adventurous lifestyle (*). Extensive traveling was not part of a formal plan – I did not have any plan anyway. I ventured into the unknown with a taste of fear in my mouth and a flame of faith in my heart, mustering the courage to dive into an intangible flow and let the current take me to vast oceans and new shores. Little did I know that I was about to turn into a modern (female) Ulysses, landing on several exotic countries and filling my travelogue with experiences I never thought I would have. And, as months passed by, traveling became not just an integral part of my identity (even though I had been a frequent traveler since childhood), but, mostly, an indivisible part of my consciousness. On a perpetual quest for Ithaca – the mysterious home which is permanently luring the voyager deeper into the corners of the psyche – I do not travel anymore for recreational purposes, nor for business: I travel to keep exploring myself through the heartbeat of the lands and the eyes of humanity. [Read more…]
In the Chouf valley of Lebanon, in between Deir Al Qamar and Beiteddin Palace, there stands the Moussa Castle – a construction of a quite imposing magnitude. Unlike most of the typical tourist attractions in the country, this one does not represent any major civilization, nor does it commemorate a landmark of historical significance. Still, every year numerous visitors stoop to pass under its low entrance door, captivated – like bees to honey – by the story of love, ego, and betrayal out of which the building emerged.
The castle was single-handedly built by Moussa Al Maamari, a Lebanese man, now in his mid-80s. Today, Moussa does not frequent the dimly-lit rooms regularly; yet, his presence is palpable not only in the construction itself but in the overall ambiance, like a spirit destined never to let go. After all, he spent 60 years of his life (that is, 21,900 days or 394,200 hours) carving each stone separately, or crafting the numerous clay animated figures that populate every room and corner! It is not easy to get detached. Not for Moussa, anyway. [Read more…]
There is something very intimate in the spring aura of the Tuscan houses as they burgeon at the heart of the hill-perched villages. They seem to be constantly smiling, stretching out an invisible hand in a broad, welcoming gesture that invites the passerby to a secret passage, a private theatrical performance, or the scene of a tale. Their magic might be merited to the long vertical windows which, with their open shutters, allure sunshine and life alike. Or, to the merry flower creations that sprout out of fatigued boots, worn pasta drainers, ceramic jugs built into the walls, and olive oil pots. Despite their sturdy medieval looks and arches, these adobes look fragile and graceful – an assemblage of ornaments along the curvy patterns of the old, cobbled alleys.
But it was the letterboxes next to each front door – individual little beings with a personality of their own – that ultimately stole my heart. I felt there was a very personal and humane echo in their charming variations: a sense of respect towards the anticipation for every awaited letter; a reminiscence of paper’s earthy aroma mixed with the faint trace of hands; a contemplation on a communication mode that still reverberates a warmer sentiment, more private and enduring. Goethe said: “Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind.” I realized I do not have any real letters myself. I only have exchanges of emails and short messages over messengers: love-lives and friendships bestowed somewhere on a virtual cloud. Despite the convenience, it does not feel the same. Or, perhaps I am just an old-fashioned romantic without any handwritten letters in my legacy chest. [Read more…]
Culinary explorations are intriguing and constitute an integral part of every trip. Occasionally, though, one encounters something that, depending on one’s cultural background, seems more exotic, weird, maybe even odious. It is the moment curiosity gets more excited than the taste buds, a photo is shot, and a remark is indelibly registered in the travelogue.
I have had my share of such outlandish discoveries. Some, I tasted on a dare or because of their medicinal qualities; others, I just observed but refused to proceed further. In all cases, these were sensational experiences, peregrine, pungent, and colorful. [Read more…]